For some, a mullet is a rather strange haircut. For us kids on holiday at Umngazi Mouth in the 1950s, mulleting in the river was one of the most exciting experiences of the holidays (before we boys started discovering girls, that is).
(Even Google does not know the word! Read on, you will know soon enough)
Mullet are a type of fish, fair sized (up to about 3 or 4 kgs). They spend a lot of time in tidal lagoons, and frequently jump (up to a metre and a half out of the water), often repeatedly, when frightened.
They swim in shoals. the trick in mulleting is to surprise shoals of mullet when they are floating on the surface of the lagoon on a dark, moonless night.
The challenge is getting the timing right, for the night is seriously dark on only a few consecutive evenings each month (on most evenings there is some moonlight). As youngsters we needed a parent or two to accompany us, so parental mood needed to be right as well (“Ag, please daddy, can’t we go mulleting?”).
We went out in a rowing-type boat with a small outboard motor moving us along at a few miles an hour. Everybody had to be really quiet and on the lookout for swirls in the water. The ‘fright weapon’ was an ultra-bright lamp burning carbide (they were used in the mines at that time, and found their way back to the Transkei).
Once we hit a shoal the outboard motor was gunned and the boat raced left and right and in circles scaring the mullet. Combined with the noise and disturbed water, the bright light got the mullet jumping, like crazy.
Jumping and jumping
Dozens, at times it seemed like hundreds, of mullet jumping and jumping and jumping, to escape the bright light and general mayhem. I guess they thought they were about to meet their maker.
Some jumped away from us. Some jumped towards up. Some slapped us on the face as they flew over the boat, or simply hit us in the head! Some landed in the boat. Adrenaline pumped! Some yelled as they were hit by flying mullet.
After an hour or so of chasing mullet, we would return to the river shore to offload our catch into bags (sometimes a couple of dozens of furiously flapping mullet). Then to the (then communal) showers to rinse the strong fishy smell off our bodies and the mullet scales out of our hair.
In the morning the ghillies [a man or boy who attends someone on a hunting or fishing expedition] filleted the mullet and treated them with salt or another preservative. We used the mullet as bait for fishing (no one ate them, then). They made excellent bait – quite strong – unlike those awful, stinking, soggy sardines that many fishermen use today.
Crayfish, the best bait of all
The best bait (all fish seemed to love it) was crayfish! Can you imagine using crayfish for bait? We did, often.
But way back then, crayfish were plentiful and cheap in the Transkei. Maybe a shilling or two a tail (maybe R5 in today’s money). Those were the days, they really were. No phones, no TV, barely even radio. Just long holidays, fishing, adventures and healthy fun in the sun, on the river and in the sea.